Security, stability and prosperity, democracy and rule of law in Eastern Europe and the southern Caucasus are a priority for the EU. In June 2008, the European Council invited the Commission to prepare a proposal for an Eastern Partnership (EaP) to support regional cooperation and reinforce EU relations with its eastern neighbours.
Following the conflict in Georgia and its repercussions on the regional stability, the extraordinary European Council of 1st September 2008 asked for this work to be accelerated.
The establishment of a single, coherent policy framework towards countries that became the new EU eastern neighbourhood became a necessity.
Russia and Turkey are not integrated in the EaP framework since both countries have acquired a different status in their relationship with the EU:
- Turkey - accession country
- Russia - strategic partnership
The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009, as a joint initiative between:
- the EU
- EU member states
- six Eastern European and South Caucasus partner countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine
The European Neighbourhood Policy
Through its ENP, the EU works with its southern and eastern neighbours to achieve the closest possible political association and the greatest possible degree of economic integration.
The ENP is chiefly a bilateral policy between the EU and each partner country. But it is complemented by regional and multilateral cooperation initiatives:
- Eastern Partnership
- the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED), formerly known as the Barcelona process
The latest progress report about the implementation of the ENP in 2014 was adopted on 25 March 2015.
What is the Eastern Partnership?
The Eastern Partnership is a specific Eastern dimension to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). It is designed to reinforce the political association and economic integration of eastern European partner countries.
Differentiation and inclusivity
The EU is committed to having strong, differentiated and mutually beneficial cooperation with all six EaP partners, whatever the individual level of ambition in their relations with the EU.
In exchange for undertaking political and economic reforms, the EaP offers:
- new contractual relations
- deep and comprehensive free trade agreements
- steps towards visa liberalisation and a multilateral framework in which to discuss these issues
The Eastern Partnership:
- offers a solid framework for multilateral co-operation
- facilitates deepening of the bilateral cooperation with the EU
Involvement of broader society
The Eastern Partnership takes into account not only governments but also:
• the views of civil society
• the perspective of local and regional authorities
• the opinion of business leaders
• parliamentary assemblies
Many of the challenges partner countries face are shared ones. Addressing them jointly promotes cooperation and the exchange of best practice.
Multilateral cooperation in the Eastern Partnership takes place across a wide array of issues:
- strengthening institutions and good governance, including resilience to external changes
- developing market opportunities through economic integration and trade agreements
- ensuring energy security and improving interconnection for energy and transport
- enhancing mobility and contacts between people with visa dialogue negotiations
Association agreements (AA)
The EU has put forward concrete ideas for each eastern partner country through a new generation of association agreements. These replace the partnership and cooperation agreements concluded with partner countries in the late 1990s.
The EU has negotiated with EaP partners a series of association agreements which provide:
- enhanced political association
- increased political dialogue
- deeper cooperation on justice and security issues
Current status of AA/DCFTA
AA/DCFTA with Georgia, republic of Moldova and Ukraine
The latest agreements concluded in 2014 are already provisionally applied for these countries. They have brought the relations between these partners and the EU to a new level.
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus
The EU will follow a more differentiated and tailored approach to relations with these countries.
They constitute a plan of reforms that will bring the partner countries closer to the EU by aligning their legislation and standards to the EU ones. This will improve peoples' lives in a tangible way.
Free trade agreements
As part of the association agreements the EU has concluded negotiations on deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to:
- improve access to goods and services
- reduce tariffs, quotas, barriers to trade
- ensure stable legal environment
- align practices and norms
AA/DCFTAs are opening broad possibilities for business communities and offering an ambitious and modernised cooperation framework.
EaP partner countries have been among the first to benefit from mobility partnerships helping their citizens to move around Europe in a secure environment.
Visa facilitation and readmission agreements promote the mobility of the citizens of the eastern partners countries through visa facilitation, and provides rules for managing the return of irregular migrants through readmission agreements.
With the visa liberalisation dialogues, the EU is taking gradual steps towards the long-term goal of visa-free travel for the citizens of certain EaP partners.
In the Council
COEST, the working party on Eastern Europe and Central Asia handles all aspects of EU relations and cooperation with countries in Eastern Europe (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan).
Its work includes frameworks for multilateral cooperation, such as the European Neighbourhood Policy, in particular the Eastern Partnership.
Also the Trade Policy Committee advises and assists the Commission in negotiating and concluding trade agreements with the EaP partner countries.
Negotiations on international agreements with the eastern partners
The Council is involved at all stages of negotiating and adopting the international agreements with the six Eastern European and South Caucasus partner countries:
- providing the mandate for negotiations
- signing the agreement on behalf of the EU
- adopting the final decision implementing it into EU law
For these specific agreements covering areas of shared competency such as the association or free-trade agreements, representatives from member state governments also have to give their mandate for negotiations.
At the end of negotiations, the Council decides on the signature and conclusion of the agreement, based on the proposal from the Commission and the High Representative.
The Council also adopts the final decision to conclude the agreement, once the Parliament has given its consent (required in areas subject to co-decision) and it has been ratified by all EU member states.
The Council can also adopt a decision to suspend the application of an international agreement or to terminate an agreement. It takes a decision on the basis of a proposal from the Commission or from the High Representative.
Support to the organisation of the Eastern Partnership summits
The EaP establishes stronger channels of communication through the launch of summits at a higher political level, which provide political guidance for further development of the Eastern Partnership.
Meetings of the heads of state or government are organised every two years. The President of the European Council represents the EU externally at these summits, usually alongside the President of the European Commission.
These summits have been hosted up to now by the member state holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
The EaP also holds annual meetings of ministers of foreign affairs from the EU and from the Eastern partners. These meetings are attached to a General Affairs or a Foreign Affairs Council.